A key Senate Republican is floating legislation that would give a big boost to nuclear power and coal as part of a nationwide standard for renewable energy, according to a draft bill obtained by E&E.
South Carolina's Lindsey Graham wrote the measure requiring the country to generate a certain percentage of "clean energy" over the next 15 years: 13 percent by 2012, 20 percent by 2020, and 25 percent by 2025.
Power sources that would fit into the program include new nuclear capacity built after the bill became law, as well as coal-fired plants that capture and permanently sequester 65 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the facility.
Traditional renewables like wind and solar power qualify, as well as certain types of biomass and hydropower. Also eligible: retired fossil-fuel plants that had produced more than 2,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of generation.
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said yesterday that the senator started working on the proposal before teaming up last fall with Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on a more sweeping energy and climate bill. Both Kerry and Lieberman have reviewed Graham's draft bill, Bishop said, but they have not agreed to include it in the comprehensive package -- details of which are expected to remain under wraps until at least next month.
Several sources said General Electric Co. helped Graham in crafting the legislative language. GE has the world's largest gas turbine manufacturing plant, in Greenville, S.C., and the company also is leading development of new nuclear reactors and a "clean coal" technology known as integrated gasification combined cycle, which has the capacity to capture and permanently sequester carbon emissions.
On nuclear power, Graham's approach goes beyond the renewable energy standard included in legislation (S. 1462) passed last June by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That legislation requires utilities to provide 15 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2021, while allowing up to a quarter of the requirement to be met with energy-saving measures instead.
Unlike Graham's bill, the committee's legislation did not let new nuclear plants be counted toward the renewable standard. But it did allow capacity added through increased efficiency at existing reactors to be excluded from the power baseline used to set renewable targets. In other words, a utility that improves a nuclear plant's efficiency could provide less energy from renewable sources to meet the standard (Greenwire, June 4, 2009).
Many of the ideas in Graham's proposal reflect amendments offered unsuccessfully by Republicans during the Senate energy committee markup. Graham told reporters last month he could not support the committee-approved bill "because nuclear power doesn't have the standing as wind and solar, and we can't meet the targets in the Southeast."
Graham's proposal also includes placeholder language for a nuclear loan guarantee provision "sufficient to build 60 additional nuclear reactors." A similar idea made it into a much larger draft nuclear title written last year by Lieberman and more than a dozen other Democratic and GOP senators.
The Lieberman-led nuclear bill included a $100 billion boost for the federal loan guarantee program, as well as additional regulatory risk insurance, accelerated depreciation for nuclear plants, investment tax credits similar to renewable energy and language to expedite the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing process.
House-passed climate legislation (H.R. 2454) also sets up a nationwide renewable energy standard. The bill approved narrowly on the floor last June requires utilities to supply 15 percent of their power sales from qualified renewable sources of electricity by 2020, though state governors also have the option of lowering the renewables requirement if they meet other efficiency mandates.
Qualified renewable energy sources in the House bill: wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, biogas, biofuels, increased hydropower capacity since 1988, waste-to-energy, landfill gas, wastewater treatment gas, coal mine methane used to create power at or near the mine mouth, and marine renewables such as wave and tidal power.
The House bill also excludes new nuclear generation, existing hydropower, and fossil generation with carbon capture and storage from the power sales baseline.
In a prepared statement, GE said it is in talks with its customers, trade associations, nongovernment organizations and members of Congress "about the merits of a clean energy standard."
The company also praised Graham's efforts on the broader climate and energy bill. "Without his bipartisan leadership and collaboration in the Senate, the U.S. will lose its leadership role in one of the most promising sectors of our economy that could stimulate job creation, technology investments and American exports," it said.
But an environmentalist tracking the debate took issue with two components of the draft Graham proposal: the loan guarantees for the new nuclear power plants and the addition of carbon capture and storage facilities. The former, he said, could create a "wide open slush fund for loan guarantees" that pushes other renewables below their business as usual projections -- even if coupled with a mandatory cap on greenhouse gases.
"This means no new jobs created," the environmentalist said, a point that undercuts one of President Obama's signature reasons for advancing an energy and climate bill.
Click here to read the Graham draft.
Click here to read the Lieberman-led nuclear draft.
Want to read more stories like this?
E&E is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy politics and policy.
Click here to start a free trial to E&E -- the best way to track policy and markets.